Questions From a Lost Weekend

<p>It was a lost weekend. Two dispiriting home losses to the LA schools have raised doubts about this Cal team and its future. </p>

Cal was picked from seventh to ninth in the pre-season polls. By that standard, they are performing about as expected.

That doesn't mean Cal fans should all be happy with the UCLA and USC games. It was very disappointing to watch a Ben Braun team perform so poorly on the defensive end in consecutive home games. These two games provoked a series of questions:

How good are Cal's players?

How someone played in high school or in the summer league doesn't matter anymore. This is an entirely different level. On Thursday night, it was apparent that UCLA has better players than Cal. Unfortunately for the Bears, the Bruins picked this night to play defense like one of Ben Howland's Pittsburgh teams.

Dijon Thompson was clearly the best player on the floor, and guards Jordan Farmar and Aaron Afflalo dominated Cal's guards. Michael Fey may not be good, but he ate up space. And Josh Shipp showed himself to be a promising albeit inconsistent athlete.

Despite their win-loss record, USC made the same statement on Saturday. Freshman Gabe Pruitt torched Cal's man and zone defenses with five first half threes. Nick Young was impressive, and in the second half, Jeff McMillan and Gregg Guenther dominated the Bears inside.

If someone said in October that the go-to guys for Cal would be Rod Benson (leading scorer in conference games) and David Paris, you would have expected a poor season. Benson and Paris have improved enormously, but they have also been inconsistent. At times, their post defense has been downright poor.

What about the system?

It's a bit amusing when someone suggests Cal should run Duke's offense. Duke's offense looks good because they have better players than Cal. A team loaded with McDonald's All-Americans is usually going to be pretty good (unless Billy Donovan or Todd Bozeman is the coach.) Cal's offense would look a whole lot better with a J.J. Redick playing the off guard. Most of the time, the team with better players wins.

When they don't, it's called an upset.

What's wrong with Cal's guards?

To use assistant coach Joe Pasternack's word, Cal's guard play has been poor for the last three games. Richard Midgley and Ayinde Ubaka are in the midst of horrific shooting slumps, and Martin Smith has been trying to pick up the slack. As a result, Smith has probably been shooting too much in recent games.

Cal's guard play does not rank in the top five in the league. The top point guards are Will Conroy, Chris Hernandez, Mustafa Shakur, Jordan Farmar, and Aaron Brooks (not in any particular order).

Why does Cal play better on the road?

Coach Braun believes that there are fewer distractions on the road, and that the team has better focus away from Haas. On the road trips to Washington, Los Angeles, and Arizona the Bears were able to rebound from Thursday losses to post impressive Saturday wins.

Where is this team headed?

In the short run, it's hard to say what this team will do. They have substantial flaws, and flaws are usually exploited in conference play, especially the second time through. At this point, there are no secrets. The Bears have to defend to be successful, and as Braun says, defense is the hardest sell to the players. As Coach Braun said, post-USC, "If the defense is playing poorly, it's on me. "

That's accurate.

Will Leon Powe make that much difference?

I say yes. Leon will be double teamed every time he touches the ball, and that should make everyone better. From all accounts, Omar Wilkes should improve the guard play. This should be a very good team next year.

Except for the last, these next four games will help define the answers to these questions. Cal can strive to recapture the formula that has been successful for much of the season: get the ball inside on offense, defend aggressively, and run off the defense. Most teams go through slumps. On Monday night, Kansas dropped their third straight conference game. How a team responds to that kind of adversity is the mark of a team and a program.

So it will be at Cal.


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If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this very active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

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Cal was picked from seventh to ninth in the pre-season polls. By that standard, they are performing about as expected.

That doesn't mean Cal fans should all be happy with the UCLA and USC games. It was very disappointing to watch a Ben Braun team perform so poorly on the defensive end in consecutive home games. These two games provoked a series of questions:

How good are Cal's players?

How someone played in high school or in the summer league doesn't matter anymore. This is an entirely different level. On Thursday night, it was apparent that UCLA has better players than Cal. Unfortunately for the Bears, the Bruins picked this night to play defense like one of Ben Howland's Pittsburgh teams.

Dijon Thompson was clearly the best player on the floor, and guards Jordan Farmar and Aaron Afflalo dominated Cal's guards. Michael Fey may not be good, but he ate up space. And Josh Shipp showed himself to be a promising albeit inconsistent athlete.

Despite their win-loss record, USC made the same statement on Saturday. Freshman Gabe Pruitt torched Cal's man and zone defenses with five first half threes. Nick Young was impressive, and in the second half, Jeff McMillan and Gregg Guenther dominated the Bears inside.

If someone said in October that the go-to guys for Cal would be Rod Benson (leading scorer in conference games) and David Paris, you would have expected a poor season. Benson and Paris have improved enormously, but they have also been inconsistent. At times, their post defense has been downright poor.

What about the system?

It's a bit amusing when someone suggests Cal should run Duke's offense. Duke's offense looks good because they have better players than Cal. A team loaded with McDonald's All-Americans is usually going to be pretty good (unless Billy Donovan or Todd Bozeman is the coach.) Cal's offense would look a whole lot better with a J.J. Redick playing the off guard. Most of the time, the team with better players wins.

When they don't, it's called an upset.

What's wrong with Cal's guards?

To use assistant coach Joe Pasternack's word, Cal's guard play has been poor for the last three games. Richard Midgley and Ayinde Ubaka are in the midst of horrific shooting slumps, and Martin Smith has been trying to pick up the slack. As a result, Smith has probably been shooting too much in recent games.

Cal's guard play does not rank in the top five in the league. The top point guards are Will Conroy, Chris Hernandez, Mustafa Shakur, Jordan Farmar, and Aaron Brooks (not in any particular order).

Why does Cal play better on the road?

Coach Braun believes that there are fewer distractions on the road, and that the team has better focus away from Haas. On the road trips to Washington, Los Angeles, and Arizona the Bears were able to rebound from Thursday losses to post impressive Saturday wins.

Where is this team headed?

In the short run, it's hard to say what this team will do. They have substantial flaws, and flaws are usually exploited in conference play, especially the second time through. At this point, there are no secrets. The Bears have to defend to be successful, and as Braun says, defense is the hardest sell to the players. As Coach Braun said, post-USC, "If the defense is playing poorly, it's on me. "

That's accurate.

Will Leon Powe make that much difference?

I say yes. Leon will be double teamed every time he touches the ball, and that should make everyone better. From all accounts, Omar Wilkes should improve the guard play. This should be a very good team next year.

Except for the last, these next four games will help define the answers to these questions. Cal can strive to recapture the formula that has been successful for much of the season: get the ball inside on offense, defend aggressively, and run off the defense. Most teams go through slumps. On Monday night, Kansas dropped their third straight conference game. How a team responds to that kind of adversity is the mark of a team and a program.

So it will be at Cal.


©Copyright 2005, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this very active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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